What is Praxis Anyway?

When I floated the trial balloon of blogging about my reflections while dissertating, our LLU doyenne replied (and I quote): “I think it would be GREAT if you would blog about the dissertation process.” So I will take the heat for what I reflect on, but Barbara gets all of the nastygrams about who let me out of my cage.

What comes to mind today arises from a difficult decision I recently had to rid  my dissertation of one of my favorite “Thorne-isms” (yeah, that Thorne). The ability to  appropriately drop the word praxiological into an academic paper and have it pass muster (or at least get overlooked) is truly an exciting moment for me. That and the word goo.

The problem my committee had with my take on praxis is that I deliberately conflate the concept of praxis with the idea of practice, whereas academe wants to pigeonhole praxis as a process by which theory is enacted. I could  make a convincing argument to keep the word, but I’m not really in the mood to write 20 extra pages, even to keep one of my favorite Thorne-isms (and I fear that “pedagogical intervention” may be endangered as well…)

I lament this research vestige of the “sage on the stage” model in SLA and CALL that has (mirabile dictu) largely been debunked (?) by language instructors. Many researchers in SLA and CALL still see their role as taking theories about language learning/instruction, testing those theories in some positivist way,  and making recommendations that instructors are to apply in a way that makes the pedagogical process more “efficient”. What research (and theory, for that matter) largely ignores is that theories and ideologies are not just a top-down process. Students and teachers come together with disparate lived ideologies of what learning and teaching look like, ideologies which  sometimes affirm, sometimes resist extant research and theoretical paradigms. Does theory inform these ideologies? Perhaps…sometimes. My experience is that instructional methods courses (to give just one example) did more to give me a voice to explain my own teaching philosophy than they did to inform my teaching, although they did inform as well.

So I am going to try something different in my research. Michael Billig and a group of social psychologists advanced an approach that distinguishes intellectual ideologies from lived ideologies or commonsense understandings, which allows the researcher to look at the way that people approach inconsistencies and contradictions in these commonsense understandings to ascertain how they are developed rhetorically to persuade others in interaction.

Long story short, IMHO, everybody is always “doing praxis”, including in the foreign language classroom. SLA and CALL researchers would do well to look at this performance as data, rather than ask questions whose answers are implicitly embedded within, or worse, lead to yet another “no significant difference” article in any journal I happen to read.  

Don’t even get me started on the myth of “replication“….. Hey, that sounds like a catchy title for a conference panel!


Doug Canfield has been running an "other-minded" language center down in the Tennessee Hills for about 8 years. A lapsed (recovering?) medievalist and French teacher, his passion now involves emerging research paradigms for exploring language instruction and learning, especially in virtual worlds. His goals include fostering the use of technology for instruction, communication, collaboration, and recreation. His alter ego sometimes blogs elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: